The Black Madonna of Derby by Joanna Czechowska, Claire Nicholls (Narrator)

Published originally in 2006, Audiobook published April 6, 2020 by Joanna Czechowska

Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction

Standalone, Run Time – 9 hrs, 9 min.

About the Book: During and after the Second World War, 200,000 Poles were given leave to remain in the UK as thanks for their help during the conflict – this book is a fictional account of just one of those families. Set during the 1960s and 1970s, The Black Madonna of Derby traces the story of the Baran family living in a provincial town in England. Their seemingly ordinary existence hides secrets of past betrayal, madness, and tragedy.

The story focuses on three generations: the elderly grandmother whose proud Polish patriotism hides dark events from the past that affect the present, the mother whose tries to meld her past life in war-torn Poland and Germany with her new life in England and the granddaughter who lives a double life culturally and linguistically – Polish at home and English outside.

The swinging sixties in London is vividly recreated, as is the hardship of life under communism in the Poland of that time. This book is unique in that there are no other novels dealing with the story of second generation Poles in the UK. It is a story that deserves to be told, a story of a group of people who have had little attention in the literature. Listen to what they have to say.

Joanna Czechowska weaves the stories of three generations of women in a Polish family together, in both Poland and England. Beginning in WWII and continuing into the 1960s we become immersed in the lives of these women as their lives change and play out over the corresponding years. With flashbacks, dreams and actual life we learn about communist Poland, Poland during the war and some treatment of the Polish people by the Nazis, how certain companies flourished during the war, then life in the UK as an immigrant and second generation.

It was interesting to see how each of the three siblings reacted to their Polish heritage. One refuses to speak the language and even changes his name, one embraces her heritage and visits Poland to see and learn what it is really like, and the third is somewhere in the middle. The Black Madonna of Derby is not a light read, it is gritty, and dark at times. It deals with ordinary people living an ordinary life. Secrets come out in some emotional sections of the story, but overall, it is an honest, dramatic story. There were parts of the book that dragged a bit, but for the most part, I was quite interested.This is a time and events that I was not familiar with at all.

The original book was published in 2006, but the audiobook just came out this year. It was narrated by Claire Nicholls. I have never listened to any other books she has narrated, but I was impressed with her delivery. The pacing was perfect and her expression and pronunciation helped with with the names and polish words. I received a copy of this audiobook through Rachel’s Random Resources upon request. The rating, ideas and opinions shared are my own.

Purchase Links: Audible

About the Author: Joanna Czechowska’s father came to the UK from Poland during the war and fought with the RAF. He married her English mother after the war and settled in Derby. Joanna’s early life was consumed with visits to the Polish club, Dom Polski, Polish Saturday school and the Polish language. She studied history at University College London.

She wrote the novel The Black Madonna of Derby (originally published in Polish under the title Goodbye Polsko) in 2008. The plot revolves around three generations of a Polish immigrant family living in Derby in the 1960s and 1970s. The sequel, Sweetest Enemy, was published in 2012 and continues the story of the family into the 1980s and 1990s with the rise of the independent trade union Solidarity. Joanna now lives in London and works as a journalist.